Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the launch of the ‘Safe’ School Sanitation Initiative at the Sheraton Hotel, Tshwane
Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angie Motshekga,
Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mr Enver Surty,
CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Mr Sello Hatang,
Chairperson of the National Education Collaboration Trust, Mr Sizwe Nxasana,
CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, Mr Bonang Mohale,
Ladies and gentlemen
We are gathered here today to seek collective action to give all the children of this country what most of us take for granted.
We are here to ask you to be part of a bold social initiative to ensure that every school in the country has safe and appropriate sanitation facilities.
This is an initiative that will save lives and restore the dignity of tens of thousands of our nation’s children, as our Constitution demands.
The Sanitation Appropriate for Education – or SAFE – initiative will spare generations of young South Africans the indignity, discomfort and danger of using pit latrines and other unsafe facilities in our schools.
Schools should be places where children can be safe, supported, nurtured and empowered.
Schools should be centres for building communities and for strengthening partnerships between a government of the people and the people themselves.
The SAFE initiative reaches beyond the bricks and mortar of water and sanitation.
It seeks to contribute to building a cohesive society in which schools are the heartbeat of wholesome communities.
We are gathered here to answer an emergency.
There are nearly 4,000 schools across the country that only have pit latrines or other inappropriate sanitation facilities.
These are the schools that serve the children of the poor.
It was in such a school, Mahlodumela Primary School in Limpopo, where five-year old Michael Komape drowned in a pit toilet in 2014.
And it was in such a school, Luna Junior Primary School in the Eastern Cape, where Lumka Mkethwa lost her life in March this year.
The utterly tragic and devastating deaths of children so young and so innocent remind us of the human consequences of service delivery delayed.
They remind us that we must focus all our attention not on what we have achieved, but on what we haven’t.
We have heard the cries of anguished families, we have felt the outrage of a society that cannot bear to witness to another needless death.
It is our responsibility – as government, business, civil society, parents, teachers and communities – to act with purpose, urgency and unity.
Through the SAFE initiative, we can all help to restore the dignity of learners in mostly rural and township schools by providing age-appropriate sanitation facilities.
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, so too does it take an entire society to educate a child.
With today’s launch, we are calling on all South Africans, corporates, NGOs and international partners to be part of this ambitious, but necessary, effort to give effect to the fundamental human rights of our learners.
In doing so, we will also be contributing to the improvement of our education system.
We cannot expose our learners and educators to an environment that is not conducive to teaching and learning and still expect excellent educational outcomes.
We will also be contributing to the broader goal of decent sanitation for all our people.
The United Nations Development Programme estimates that, globally, there are more than 2.4 billion people who did not have access to basic sanitation like toilets and latrines.
Through the Sustainable Development Goals, global leaders have agreed that by 2030 we must have achieved “access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all”.
Aware of the importance of adequate sanitation in preventing diseases and ensuring economic and social benefits, South Africa is committed to attaining the targets of sanitation for all by 2030.
We have made significant progress in addressing the backlogs.
The percentage of households with access to improved sanitation increased from 62% in 2002 to 80% in 2015.
In the public school system, since the advent of democracy, over 11,000 schools have been provided with flush toilets linked either to a municipal connection or a septic tank.
In instances where reticulated water connections are not available, government has provided appropriate alternative sanitation technologies in a further 9,600 public schools.
Despite this progress, we are painfully aware that we have not done enough, and we are not moving nearly as fast as we need to.
In our quest to ensure universal access to safe and dignified sanitation, we need to employ the sanitation solutions of tomorrow – not yesterday.
Current models of sanitation are expensive, require large-scale networked infrastructure, have a high energy budget and use much more water than we have.
This is why the Water Research Commission has partnered with local and international organisations to realise a new approach to sanitation.
The new toilet systems are localised, usually off-grid, potentially energy producing and use minimal water, if any.
These are not low-technology solutions.
Instead, they use the benefit of the best science in the world to achieve high tech, low maintenance, value-adding solutions.
The SAFE Initiative could be a catalyst for a new revolution in sanitation, demonstrating that these new systems can be effectively implemented at scale.
By finding innovative solutions to a challenging problem, we will not only be making our schools safer and the lives of learners better, but we will be opening new possibilities for environmentally sustainable sanitation.
This has broader social and economic implications, encouraging the deployment of new sanitation technology in public and other facilities, and potentially establishing an industry in South Africa for the development and production of such systems.
We are calling on the private sector to be an integral part of this effort to realise the basic human rights of our children and secure their future.
There are several ways to get involved.
Firstly, through direct contributions to the SAFE Initiative, companies can support the construction of models of new technology toilets as a core component of the plan for each school.
Secondly, companies can adopt a group of schools as model schools for joint sanitation-water-energy off-grid solutions.
And thirdly, companies can be part of building a South African base for the industrialisation of these new technologies for local and global markets.
In whatever way we each choose to assist, there is an urgent need to collectively develop infrastructure that will bring dignity to those who lack safe and adequate sanitation and, thereby, improve public health.
We seek sustainable and affordable solutions that have community support.
We seek partners that will not rest until every school and every learner has decent, safe and appropriate sanitation.
Let us build a social compact that is greater than the sum of its parts, which harnesses the resources and capabilities of each social partner to achieve our common goals.
Let us build a social compact that recognises our shared responsibility to build a new society founded on the principles of justice, respect, dignity and equality.
Let us act in solidarity with the children of this country.
Allow me, in conclusion, to extend my appreciation to those organisations that have joined government in launching this initiative – UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the National Education Collaboration Trust.
Thank you to everyone who has joined us here this morning for your commitment to being part of this initiative.
Your involvement gives us confidence that, however great the challenge, however dire the need, by working together in partnership, we will succeed.
This is something we must do, for our children, for their future and for our country.
I thank you.